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Economic Commentary:
The success stories of environment in the Gulf

Published by Daily Star on 2003-11-05

BEIRUT: When the mavens of global sustainable development gather at their periodic talkfests, it's the perceived shortcomings of industrialized countries--too much pollution, not enough ecological protection--that tend to dominate the agenda. It's rare that the world's success stories in conservation and the tending of natural resources are much discussed. After all, the bad news almost always drives out the good news, and, anyway, the reasoning goes, the success stories in the environmental field are so few and far between.
But there are at least two success stories in the Middle East region that the international community should hear more about--the extraordinary commitment to environmental protection made by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Both states are heavily dependent on the hydrocarbons industry for the revenues with which to drive their ambitious domestic economic and social development projects. Both countries, in barely 30 years, have transformed themselves from subsistence-based economies to prosperous entities. Both nations have managed to advance their indigenous societies through an unusual combination of state benevolence and imported expertise and labor.
And both Qatar and the UAE have accomplished all this while also demonstrating that rapid economic growth--especially growth predicated on the development of the oil and gas industry--need not be to the detriment of the local ecology.
Qatar, in fact, may be among just two or three countries of the United Nation's roster of 191 member states where the environment is actually enshrined in the national constitution. It says, in part: "The state shall preserve the environment and its natural balance in order to achieve comprehensive and sustainable development for all generations."
Qatar's rulers aren't late arrivals to the environment cause either. Back in 1978, the country became a founding signatory to the Kuwait Convention for the Protection of Marine Environment and Coastal Areas Development. What came out of this convention was an influential Qatari committee for environmental protection; it has focused on the combating of oil slicks in regional waters, according to the Oxford Business Group (OBG). Overall monitoring of the country's environment is undertaken by the Supreme Council for the Environment and Natural Reserves (SCENR). Qatar's strictly implemented Environment Protection Law authorizes the Council to prevent the hunting of scarce wildlife and the destruction of trees and grass, the OBG points out. Heavy fines of up to $200,000 discourage individual and institutional violators.
Qatari law also requires that all public and private development projects produce an environmental impact study prior to the commencement of work. Industrial projects must establish waste treatment and recycling programs. The University of Qatar has been encouraged to work with industrial corporations such as Qatar Petroleum in developing eco-protection projects.
Such cooperation between the state and private and public sector bodies can also been seen in Abu Dhabi, like Qatar a member of the 11-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Oil companies are particularly urged to comply with strict pollution regulations. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayahan, the UAE president, is so concerned about environmental protection, in fact, that in 2001 he signed a new Environment Law that includes the death penalty for serious violators.
Abu Dhabi also has organizations such as the Federal Environmental Agency (FEA) and the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) that oversee the implementation of the emirate's five-year environmental strategy (2000 to 2004). The strategy--which has been widely replicated in developing countries in Asia and Africa--is aimed at developing environmental regulatory and monitoring systems, increasing environmental awareness and education among emirates, and managing fisheries, water resources, wildlife and Abu Dhabi's fragile ecosystem.
Both Abu Dhabi and Qatar clearly believe that economic growth must enhance the quality of their people's everyday lives. The attention to the environment is not simply a question of good intentions but a matter of national policy.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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